By Liz George
A massive veterans bill designed to expand healthcare benefits for veterans who were exposed to toxic burn pits passed in the US Senate late Tuesday. President Joe Biden said in a statement that he is looking forward to signing the bill, which he will do Monday.
The Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxins Act (PACT) Act passed in the Senate by a vote of 86-11 after passing in the House with a 342-88 vote in July. The bill authorizes $667 billion in funding for veterans impacted by burn pits.
Once signed, the law will give veterans access to disability benefits and allow them to receive funding for injuries without being forced to prove their military service led to certain diagnoses, including respiratory illnesses and several forms of cancer.
Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Denis McDonough praised the bill’s passage, calling veterans who were exposed to toxic fumes during their service “American heroes” who “deserve world-class care and benefits.”
McDonough said the act will allow the VA to provide “care and benefits to Vets suffering from more than 20 toxic exposure-related conditions.”
The PACT Act hit a roadblock this week after Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) once again highlighted a portion of the bill that would enable billions in future spending “completely unrelated to veterans.”
“This could have been resolved months ago, as I had suggested it would be, but finally we’ve gotten to the point where we can resolve this. And I have to say, we are witnessing a very old Washington trick playing out on what might be an unprecedented scale. And what is that trick?” Toomey said on the Senate floor. “That trick is you take a very sympathetic group of Americans, it could be children with rare diseases, it could be victims of crime, it could be veterans who are suffering an illness after having been exposed to toxic chemicals while serving our country.”
“You take this sympathetic group, craft legislation to address their problems, and then sneak in something that’s completely unrelated, that could never pass on its own, and dare anyone to stand up and say a word about that,” he added. “Because we all know if you raise the concern about the unrelated provision, people in this chamber and outside will stand up and make up all kinds of fabrications and falsehoods.”
The PACT Act ultimately received rare bipartisan support in Congress.
“THE PACT ACT IS PASSED! We’re finally getting the job done and delivering America’s veterans their hard-earned care and benefits. They held up their end of the bargain, and I’m damn proud we’re holding up ours,” tweeted Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT). Next stop: The President’s desk for his signature.”
“I’m proud to support the PACT Act and all our nation’s veterans,” tweeted Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). “Read my full statement here.”
Veterans, their families, caregiving and survivors can apply for PACT Act benefits by filing a claim at the VA. To learn more about the PACT Act, visit VA.gov/PACT or call the VA at 1-800-MyVA411.
Source: American Military News